Any hopes of an imminent decision regarding North Shore Aero Club’s application for Airport Authority status have been dashed, with Transport Minister Michael Wood’s office confirming to the paper last week that it would take longer than anticipated.
The delay is because he has asked a number of questions of the Ministry of Transport, following a community meeting this month, which was attended by around 150 people. The meeting was to enable everyone to share their thoughts directly with the Minister regarding North Shore Airport’s attempt to gain significant new powers to support its further development.
North Shore Aero club, which owns the airport in Dairy Flat, applied for Airport Authority status in 2020 and a public meeting in Dairy Flat, and around 500 submissions, followed.
Airport Authority status gives the airport powers, including making bylaws (which must be government approved) and compulsory acquisition of land (with approval from the Minister of Lands). The proposal was opposed by a large number of residents, because of the potential for expansion of the airport.
The application and submissions have been on the Minister’s desk since October 2021 – he is required to take a recommendation to Cabinet for a decision.
First, Minister Wood wanted to hear the issues, face to face, which he said is why he called the meeting on May 14 in Albany. As well as local residents, it was attended by Whangaparāoa MP Mark Mitchell, Rodney Ward councillor Greg Sayers, Auckland Council staff and Hibiscus & Bays Local Board chair Gary Brown.
It was clear that feelings still run high, two years after the application was made.
Among the people who spoke at the May 14 meeting were representatives of the Aero Club, Dairy Flat School (located around 1500m from one end of the runway), the Dairy Flat Landowners Group and residents of Stillwater and Dairy Flat.
Several speakers noted that a lack of communication between the airport and the community had caused significant distrust and that more transparency was needed about any plans, should the airport gain Airport Authority status.
Issues raised in opposition to the proposal included the potential impact of any expansion of the airport on residents throughout the Hibiscus Coast, including noise, health and safety, pollution of tank water and property rights.
A local environmentalist also raised the issue of bird strike, as Dairy Flat sits in the centre of an important flight path for native birds between Whangaparāoa and west Auckland (the North West Wildlink).
Another resident questioned whether the application could be postponed until electric aircraft are in use, to reduce impacts such as noise and pollution.
North Shore Aero Club general manager, John Punshon, told the meeting that the new status would enable the club to better manage the airport in a modern regulatory environment. He also said that substantial rates reductions could result. He has told the paper in the past that the club is keen to see a few more regional flights and runway upgrades.
Minister Wood said that it was very rare for any decision to be uncontested, and that is definitely the case here.
“Inevitably, wherever we land on it, not everyone will be happy and there will have to be ongoing communication between the aero club and the community,” Minister Wood said.
He said the key aspects he will be considering are the cost/benefit, how the airport fits into the transport network and government policy on reducing emissions, as well as stakeholder and community views.
He told the May 14 gathering he intended to take his recommendation to cabinet within a couple of weeks.
However, on returning to Wellington, he has asked questions of the Ministry of Transport and now says once he has considered that information, as well as feedback from the meeting and consultation and official advice, he will look to make a recommendation to cabinet “in the coming months”.